Apple juice used to be something that you only found in block-like, long-life plastic cartons with the words “from concentrate” emblazoned on the side. After an initial hit of sweetness, the flavour had very little in common with actual apples.
Missing was that tart hit of a Granny Smith eaten for an afternoon snack or the acid fizz from slices of Bramley cooking apple snaffled from Saturday morning apple tart assembly. It was a dull drink, from who knows where not something to get excited about.
Apple juice became interesting when Irish apple growers started juicing their produce. Finding a bottle of Irish-grown juice now is not the challenge that it once was.
While apples have been grown as a commercial crop in Ireland for the last 100 years, the total apple production area has increased by 16% in recent years, from 615 hectares in 2012 to 713 hectares in 2017, according to a National Apple Orchard Census by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).
There was a large jump in dessert apple production, an increase of 75% from the 2012 census, which Dermot Callaghan pointed out in a Teagasc fact sheet last year is “partly attributable to new opportunities for dessert apples in juicing and cider markets”.
An apple a day might keep the doctor away because this fruit is an excellent source of vitamins - particularly vitamin C - plus minerals like copper and potassium, fibre and antioxidants. But just how healthy is a daily glass of juice?
Based on the food pyramid, The HSE Healthy Food for Life guidelines stipulate five to seven servings of vegetables, salad and fruit per day, with 150ml of unsweetened fruit juice counting as one serving. It also states that fruit juice consumption should be limited to once a day, with a meal, and to always choose unsweetened. No matter how much apple juice you drink, you’re not going to rack up more than one serving per day.
While apple juice may have health benefits, it’s important to keep everything in moderation. Too much fruit juice can cause blood sugar levels to spike as juicing releases the sugars in fruit and removes the insoluble fibre that in whole fruit delays its absorption.
But there is more to drinking juice than just getting in one of your five (or more)a day. When you buy local juice from Irish apples, you’re making a small but significant, environmental impact. Zero air miles is always a good thing.
One of the mainstays of the Irish apple juice scene is Con Trass of The Apple Farm, who has been producing apple juice from his Tipperary orchards since the mid-1990s, alongside pressing apples for many other producers in the country. “We made our first commercial juice in 1996,” says Trass. “The press arrived from the USA on the morning of my wedding, so obviously I spent until around 11am making juice for the guests before my best man dragged me away.”
While Trass believes you’re better off eating an apple than drinking it, he also points out that “juice is a good source of vitamins, and some nutrients such as potassium, and phytonutrients".
“Irish juices are made with whole fruit, whereas juices from concentrate are reconstituted, and not all flavour components are added back,” says Trass.
“Perfume companies pay good prices for apple aroma, which means it is seldom added back to juices when they are reconstituted from concentrate.”
Juice from The Apple Farm comes with all its flavour components intact: balanced between sweet and sharp, it gets a distinctive flavour from the Karmijn de Sonnaville apple, a Dutch apple variety that is grown exclusively at The Apple Farm.
As well as commercial growers, there are also those who happen to have old trees on their property but don’t have the capacity to pick the apples. Falling Fruit Ireland, winner of the 2020 Irish Food Writers’ Guild Community Food Award, organises volunteers to handpick seasonal gluts from orchards where the apples might otherwise end up rotting on the ground.
Some of the places it picks apples include the UCD Lamb-Clarke Irish Heritage Apple collection and Russborough House orchards. These apples are donated to food waste charity FoodCloud, which works with Trass to juice and bottle the gleaned fruit. The cloudy apple juice - stocked at places like Airfield Estate in Dublin, GIY in Waterford and KAI restaurant Galway - raises funds for FoodCloud and, through detailed labels, awareness of food waste.
By buying local and Irish there are definite wins to be made in terms of the environment and reducing food waste - and that’s before you start to appreciate the great flavour of Irish-grown apples. If you’re going to have one glass of juice a day, Irish apple juice is well worth adding to your diet.
Based in Co Limerick, it took three stars at Great Taste Awards 2021 for its limited-edition Irish Rosette Apple Juice. This apple variety has vibrant pink flesh which produces a distinctively pink juice with a delicious sweet-sharp flavour. The limited-edition juice, and other juices from the 10-acre orchard, are available online and in select outlets. www.attyflinestate.com
Alongside Karmine apple juice, Trass also produces a variety of apple juices mixed with strawberries and raspberries grown on site, sparkling apple juice and mulled juices. All of these are available from the superb farm shop and also online. www.theapplefarm.com
Despite having to relocate an orchard of 4,500 trees from Churchtown in Co Cork to Kilfinane, Co Limerick in 2014, the Ballyhoura Apple Farm has always continued to innovate. Its pure apple juice is a popular choice and the company also blends the juice with ingredients like beetroot and parsnip, nettles, seaweed, turmeric and black pepper. www.ballyhouraapplefarm.com
David and Julia Keane in Cappoquin are some of the original pioneers of Irish apple juice. They started pressing fruit from their 90-acre orchard in the Blackwater Valley in 1992 and their award-winning range now includes a Bramley and Cox blend, pure Cox juice and a mixture of apples in their Summer Juice. Available in speciality stores and supermarkets.
Gleaning is a tradition of collecting the produce that has been left behind after harvesting. This cloudy apple juice, made using apples gleaned by volunteers from Falling Fruit Ireland, makes sure that Irish apples don’t go to waste.
Based in Armagh, Ireland’s Orchard County, the McKeever family has been growing apples for three generations at Long Meadow. They produce still and sparkling apple juice, both of which are available at their orchard tours and online (delivery only to Northern Ireland at the moment). www.longmeadowcider.com